Using records for family history
Once you have the basic outline of your family tree, finding records of some of your ancestors in other sources can shed light on their lives, sometimes even their characters, and perhaps about the community in which they lived. Some of the records held by the Oxfordshire History Centre or The National Archives may also help resolve gaps in your earlier research.
Church of England records
Before the Victorian era, the Church of England was responsible for many of the administrative functions now carried out by the state, including poor relief. The Diocese of Oxford have published a useful guide for family historians explaining the range of material to be found in church records.
Oxfordshire has a rich heritage of nonconformism, particularly in the north of the county. Some of their records are on Heritage Search and have been deposited with Oxfordshire History Centre. Non-conformist records held by The National Archives have been digitised and made available on Ancestry. This can be searched free of charge at Oxfordshire History Centre and Oxfordshire Libraries.
Quarter Sessions records
For centuries, Oxfordshire’s magistrates met four times a year to run the county, deal with cases of minor crime, oversee Poor Law administration, etc. If your ancestors were magistrates; county officials; witnesses, victims or perpetrators of minor crime or disputes with neighbours; if they paid land tax or simply fell on hard times, their names may appear in Quarter Sessions records.
Poor Law Union records (1834-1930)
Although many of the workhouse records have not survived, Oxfordshire has an almost-complete run of the Board of Guardians minute books for the Oxfordshire Poor Law Unions, The catalogues for individual Poor Law Unions (references: PLU1-8) are on Heritage Search.
Our map collections include a wide range of both published and archival maps which may help identify where your ancestors lived. The documentation accompanying the tithe (c.1838-1854), enclosure (c.1836 -1860) and district valuation maps (1910-1915) can be particularly useful for family historians as it identifies landowners and occupiers.
Trade and street directories
If your ancestor lived in a town, then trade and street directories can help you locate the actual house or workplace. Oxfordshire History Centre has a good collection of printed trade and street directories in the Searchroom. View our collections of digitised directories.
Local newspapers can be an invaluable source of information about your ancestors, although unfortunately it can be very time-consuming to search them. You might find out, for example, that a relative was regularly successful at local horticultural competitions; was a witness to a crime or for an inquest; or was of sufficient standing in his / her local communty to be entrusted with money subscribed for a charitable cause.
View key digitised newspaper collections. A list of newspaper titles and their dates (pdf format, 276Kb) held at Oxfordshire History Centre is available to download.
Electoral registers, introduced in 1832, are lists of all the people registered to vote in a particular area. Oxfordshire History Centre holds electoral registers for both the County of Oxfordshire and the City of Oxford.
Other types of document held at Oxfordshire History Centre
- Business records may discover your ancestor in their workplace.
- Organisation records may find your ancestors if they were members.
- Manorial records may find your ancestor as a tenant of the lord of the manor.
- Family and personal records may have been handed over relating to your family.
- Solicitors and estate collections might contain deeds to which your ancestor was a party.
- School records may give an insight into your ancestor’s education (but note that records which have survived are closed for 100 years).
- Name indexes: A personal name index to business, organisation, manorial, family, personal, solicitors and estate records can be viewed in Oxfordshire History Centre. From 1991, names can be searched on our online catalogue.
- Town and village histories will tell you about the place your ancestor lived. These are listed on our online catalogue Heritage Search.
- Photographs may show your ancestors or where they lived. Many of the photographs in Oxfordshire History Centre’s collections can be searched and viewed through Picture Oxon.
- Oral history recordings may mention them or their occupation. These are also catalogued on Picture Oxon – use the “search audio” button to find them.
- Published guides to particular topics or specialist collections may help you track down more elusive records. Find them on Heritage Search or LibCat.
- Monthly family history magazines will give you the latest news on research and records.
Find out if your ancestor went to hospital
The Oxfordshire Health Archives are based in the Oxfordshire History Centre, though still a separate body. Their web site will tell you about the records they hold and what kinds of birth, family history or medical history enquiry they may be able to help with.
Oxfordshire and beyond
Ancestry, Find My Past and The Genealogist
The three major family history subscription sites Ancestry, Find My Past and The Genealogist can be consulted free of charge at Oxfordshire History Centre. Ancestry and Find My Past are also available from any Oxfordshire Libraries computer. Members of Oxfordshire Libraries can currently (June 2020) access Ancestry at home.
The National Archives
National collections such as the nonconformist, military service, migration and railway employment records digitised by The National Archives will be of use to researchers looking for Oxfordshire ancestors as well as to Oxfordshire historians researching family from further afield.
Information about collections at TNA of particular interest to family historians can be found on The National Archives.